Galileo satellite gets nod

The UK’s Surrey Satellites has won a £21 million contract to build the demonstrator satellite for the initial constellation of Europe’s Galileo system.

The UK’s Surrey Satellites has won a £21million contract to build the demonstrator satellite for the initial constellation of Europe’s Galileo system.

EU member states last month finally reached agreement over Galileo, Europe’s civil navigation system and its answer to the US military-controlled GPS.

The satellite, known as the Galileo System Test Bed Demonstrator, will be launched from Russia in 2005 and tested at an altitude of 22,000km, to ensure the technologies for the £2.3 billion system will work.

The UK company, which beat European space industry consortium Galileo Industries to the contract, will meet representatives from the European Space Agency (ESA) this week to agree the final specifications for the demonstrator.

Galileo, a joint EU and ESA project, will consist of 30 satellites at a 22,000km orbit, and is due to be in operation by 2008.

The demonstrator will be based on Surrey Satellite’s Gemini design. This was developed through its Micro Satellite Applications in Collaboration (MOSAIC) work, a National Space Centre-supported programme to develop communications satellites, said Mark Allery, director of projects at the company, a spin-out from Surrey University.

‘Our experience with Mosaic certainly helped us get the contract. The demonstrator satellite, at around 500kg, is at the upper end of the small satellite class. It will form part of the first part of the constellation and last one to two years. It will be superseded by the main constellation (of satellites).’

Following the launch of the demonstrator two or three additional satellites will be launched into orbit to create a network for further testing. The launches are part of Galileo’s £760 million four-year development and validation phase, after which the remaining satellites will be placed in orbit.

Of this development phase funding, half will come from the EU’s Trans European Networks budget, and the remaining half will be provided by ESA. The UK government will provide £57 million.

The EU’s involvement in Galileo was agreed in principle by government ministers from its member states in November 2001. A final decision to go ahead was taken at the EU transport minister’s council meeting in March last year, but arguments over the distribution of work among member states have since held up the start of the development phase.